What’s Wrong With School Sports?

I have written a number of posts on this blog about my role as a coach and athletic rep at my school. The most recent one about the struggle to find coaches and ensure that students who want to play at least get the chance to tryout. Last week I read an article by Dr. Doug Gleddie expressing his disappointment with school sports. He lists 3 things in particular that are causing his negative outlook despite many years as both a player and coach of school sports. They were: 1. Participation Rates 2. Elitism and 3. Winning First.

The article made me stop and think about school sports and their impact on me as a young player and as a coach and athletic administrator. There are, most certainly, some frustrations, but as I reflected, it was evident that the positives and long term benefits of school sports largely outweigh those frustrations.

Dr. Gleddie states that in his experience only around %25 of students actually play school sports. While I haven’t crunched the numbers at my school to compare, the one thing I do know is that school sports are competing heavily with outside sports and leagues. Each year at my school (k-9 approx. 480 students – 240 in 7-9) we have a good number of kids who are interested but chose not to play school sports because of their commitment to equestrian, football (not a school sport in Jr. high), soccer, community basketball, dance, cheer, swimming, hockey as well as others. Opportunities are out there for young people to find their passions athletically. School sport is no longer the be-all and end-all for competitive athletics. I believe that the percentage of kids who are gaining the benefits of physical activity, socialization and competitive challenge from sport are much higher that Gleddie’s %25. Also, school sport is optional…we don’t HAVE to be offering any sports. Even if participation is “only” %25, that is a large number of kids who are getting an opportunity they wouldn’t have otherwise.


Not all kids are interested or passionate about sports or competition. Extracurricular sports teams are not meant to reach every student. If you look at schools across Alberta and Canada, you will find extracurricular programs in a large number of disciplines. All of these programs are meant to feed the emotional and physical needs of our youngsters. Assuming that all (or even most) students would like to be on a sports team is quite presumptuous.

Yes, I have seen elitism in sports. I have seen it in drama and music programs as well. The onus has to be on coaches to make sure they are doing their best to develop a whole team of athletes. Teaching a young player and their teammates what it means to “play a role” is a vital lesson that can be used in many areas of life. In our junior high athletic program, we believe strongly that all kids need to play significant amounts of time in order to learn and improve the needed skills. However, there are other things that come in to play when a coach doles out minutes on the court or field. Does the athlete miss practices? Do they work their hardest at drills during practice time? What about character? Do they treat their coaches and teammates with respect? The officials?

SrBball 2013 003

I truly believe that a “winning first” attitude of coaches or athletic programs is a thing of the past. I have seen very, very few examples of this kind of focus in 15 years of coaching at the Jr. High level. Generally, coaches are looking to teach the sport and social skills and attitudes that will help athletes in all areas of their life. Teaching them HOW to learn is as important as teaching them how to dribble a soccer ball, throw a football or shoot a hockey puck. In Canada, school coaches are not paid at all for their time. That alone shows that winning is not the top priority in our school athletic programs. Providing opportunities for our student/athletes is. In the athletic association of which I am a part, we have even put in rule changes in both our volleyball and basketball leagues to support player skill development and move away from placing importance on winning.

Are school sports perfect? Nope.

Are there some examples that illustrate Dr. Gleddie’s three issues with school sports? Yup.

Could we make some changes to how school sports are run/organized/coached? Probably.

Are there undeniable benefits to participation in school sports? Most certainly.


Another interesting point about Dr. Gleddie’s post is that he states himself that, “To be honest, I am not really sure what we should do.” I’m never a fan of making a complaint without having input as to what could be done instead, or done to improve whatever it is we are complaining about.

Even though I am not complaining about school sports, I do have one suggestion for Dr. Gleddie, schools, coaches and athletic organizations, that may help with improving some of the areas he is disenchanted with. I think that it is vitally important to decide as an organization what you believe and value and to make a public statement to shareholders as to what those team/organization cornerstones are. The next step is to ensure that decisions and actions express that same worldview. Follow up. “Put your money where your mouth is” so to speak.

I’d love to hear your opinions on school sports and on what is working and what isn’t. What do you think needs to change (if anything) about coaching and sport administration in your area?


Opening Books=Opening Minds

book club by robertmichalovebook club, a photo by robertmichalove on Flickr.


“What are you reading?” and “Have you read _____?” are two of my favourite conversation starters with children and adults alike.

As long as I can remember, I have defined myself as “a reader”.  Each school year, I introduce myself to my new class and tell them a few things about my life.  One of those things is always that I love to read and that books are extremely valuable to me (this also fits well with our Social Studies discussion on beliefs and values).  I have so many strong memories that center around books.

About 15 years ago, I was teaching a grade 9 L.A. class and we would do 10 minutes of silent reading at the beginning of every class. I would read as well. The Stand by Stephen King was the book I was engaged in at the time. Our 10 minutes was up and I was just at the exciting part of the story and I couldn’t stop! We read for the whole 50 minute class, mainly because I was unable to tear myself away.

The Stand

I have dampened many a pillow when brought to tears by an author’s creation of characters and plot line AND I have turned out my light during early morning hours because I have not been able to put those characters and plot down for a few hours to sleep.

Last year, I started a book club for my grade 8 Social Studies classes. I picked Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus because it fit with our curricular study of Japan’s Edo and Meiji periods.


I had 6 or 7 kids who read the book and 4 girls who actually showed up to the book club meeting. However, I wasn’t discouraged…the girls that came were completely enthusiastic and excited about the book and about actually having an in depth discussion about it. When we were done, they expressed a strong desire to do this again, and I promised them that we would.

So now, I am following through with that promise.  This time I have opened the book club up to any and all students in the middle grades (5-9) who are interested and I have invited all the teachers and parents as well. Our choice this time is The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer.


I’m really hoping to share the excitement and enthusiasm that the four girls showed during our book club last year. The more opportunities students get to read and talk about their reading without the pressure of assessment, the more successful they will be when they are being assessed.  Parents and teachers will also be able to do some great modelling and involvement in their child’s school lives.